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Turkish lawmakers approve state of emergency, giving President Erdogan more power after attempted coup

Turkey security
Turkish police secure the area in front of Eminonu Mosque in Istanbul on Thursday.
(Deniz Toprak / European Pressphoto Agency)

The Turkish parliament approved a three-month state of emergency Thursday that allows the government to suspend some human rights and judicial protections as it hunts for suspects in the country’s military and other agencies with possible ties to last week’s attempted coup.

Top officials rushed to explain that government by decree will be limited to issues related to the coup attempt as they pursue supporters of Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric living in self-exile in the U.S., whom the government blames for the revolt. Turkey is seeking Gulen’s extradition from the U.S. 

How long the state of emergency would last remained unclear.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus  told reporters the state of emergency may last four to six weeks rather than three months and would not reverse fundamental rights and freedoms. 

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“This is not a proclamation of martial law. There won’t be curfews; the right to assembly will continue to be exercised,” he said.

But later, President Recip Tayyip Erdogan told Reuters news agency that there was no obstacle to extending it.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the country would eliminate threats without compromising on freedoms or security.

 Questions remain for many observers about why the state of emergency was needed in the first place. Not only was the coup a colossal failure, but the country has rallied behind Erdogan, adding to his already considerable powers, and his Justice and Development Party commands an absolute majority in parliament.

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Lawmakers in the 550-seat Grand National Assembly approved the state of emergency by a 3-2 margin, with 346 voting in favor, mainly from the Justice and Development Party and the left-of-center Nationalist Movement party.

In its pursuit of what it calls a Gulenist “parallel government,” the government has suspended, detained or jailed 60,000 military officers and soldiers, policemen, judges, teachers and other government employees.

Erdogan told Reuters a new structure would be emerging in the Turkish army, and that “there were significant gaps and deficiencies in our intelligence.”

Even before Erdogan announced the state of emergency late Wednesday, the government took an additional step as it began closing the 524 private schools that Gulen’s Hizmet organization had run, as well as 102 dormitories and college preparation centers, the semiofficial Anadolu news agency reported.

This will put thousands of pupils out of school and create further chaos in the country’s education system, and would have been a highly controversial move before the coup attempt.

Gulen spokesmen in the U.S. declined to discuss the closures.

The government also notified the European Court of Human Rights that it was temporarily suspending human rights guarantees in a process called derogation. 

A derogation, which can only be invoked in time of war or a public emergency threatening the life of the nation, does not allow a government to introduce torture or to carry out inhuman or degrading punishments.

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But reports have surfaced that detainees, particularly those from the military, have been tortured and beaten in detention.

Andrew Gardner, a representative of Amnesty International, said there was a “wealth of evidence” from family members, lawyers and others that detainees, especially high-ranking military officers and soldiers, had been ill-treated.

“Ankara is where I’ve heard the most-serious allegations,” he said — in particular at the police headquarters, which rebel forces bombed Friday night, killing dozens of officers. He spoke of “really high levels of violence.”

Akin Ozturk, the former air force commander who is alleged to be the main planner of the coup, was pictured in the Turkish media appearing roughed up — as if he’d been punched in the nose and ears and upper body. 

Lt. Col. Levent Turkkan, the chief military aide to the military’s chief of staff, was quoted extensively in local media as confessing that he’d been a Gulen supporter since attending military high school and military academy, and saying that he’d written his testimony out by hand. But his fingers were broken, according to some reports.   

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A senior official in Erdogan’s office rejected the allegations. “We are doing everything according to the law,” said the official, who could not be named under official protocol. "Amnesty’s claims do not reflect reality.”

Gardner also said Turkish lawyers were refusing to come forward to defend detainees seized after the coup attempt. As a result of their reluctance, defendants have to rely on lawyers appointed by the Turkish bar association, he said. 

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Under the state of emergency, the constitutional protection that a detainee must be charged or released within 48 hours has been suspended. There are many reports that defendants have had no legal counsel for days after being detained.

Those suspended from their jobs and now detained or under investigation include thousands of judges and court employees, among them two of the 17 judges on the constitutional court, the highest court in the land.

In parliamentary debate Thursday, Bulent Tezcan, a top official in the opposition Republican People’s Party, decried the state of emergency as “a step to deactivate the parliament.”

Gutman is a special correspondent.

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UPDATES:

4:40 p.m.: This article was updated to include comments by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

This article was originally published at 3:35 p.m


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